Ecology

Santos-Granero, Fernando, and Frederica Barclay. Ordenes y desórdenes en la Selva Central: historia y economía de un espacio regional. Instituto de Estudios Andinos, 1995.

Federica Barclay and Fernando Santos Granero treat the Selva Central provinces of Chanchamayo, Satipo and Oxapampa as constituting a “regional space” subject to the constant ordering and disordering of its ebb and flow from the influence of coastal and highland markets. Using cadastral data on tenurial regimes and land use, Barclay and Santos argued that production of export-oriented crops—namely coffee and fruits—operated as a model for increasing waves of migrants despite the fact it was often done on unsuitable land slated for other extractive pursuits like logging. For Barclay and Santos, deforestation in the Selva Central was the product of the region’s unruly status as hinterland, where extraction and demographic pressure met with ecologically sensitive lands with disastrous consequences. As but one example of the devastating effects of road colonization, Barclay and Santos analyzed SAN photographs from the Kivanaki region of the Perené Valley. They concluded that between the years 1977 and 1983—while La Marginal was in construction through the area—annual deforestation rates rose to more than twelve percent of the land surface. (229-247)

Merchant, Carolyn. Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

Almost thirty years ago, Carolyn Merchant demonstrated how a confluence of social and ecological pressures triggered a shift from predominantly subsistence-based agriculture to a surplus-oriented agricultural structure in eighteenth-century New England. She argued that the increased demographic pressure caused by colonization coupled with new demands on the regional ecology to push farmers toward a capitalist mode of food production with massive ramifications not only for soil fertility, but for the gendering of social relations, as many “farm women were not only wives, mothers and grandmothers, but also vegetable and poultry producers, food processors, cheese and butter makers, spinners, carders, weavers, sewers, herbalists, healers, and sometimes teachers or midwives, as well”.[1] The concomitant exhaustion of soils and feminization of commerce was something that Merchant also attributed to the system of patriarchal inheritance and its effect of reducing farm sizes over generations and exacerbating their dependence on dwindling ecological reserves. Merchant’s insights are invaluable, for they demonstrate the complex socio-ecological tensions between production and reproduction that push settler societies toward destructive, export-oriented agriculture. Moreover, the analytical nexus she draws between ecology, economy and gender offers a useful paradigm for understanding those tensions.[2] However, her analysis neglected the important realm of representation, especially the gendered representation of space.




[1] Carolyn Merchant, Ecological Revolutions: Nature, Gender, and Science in New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 150–53.

[2] I am drawing especially from Part Two: “The Capitalist Ecological Revolution” Merchant, Ecological Revolutions.

 

Grandin, Greg. The Blood of Guatemala: a History of Race and Nation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

I want to focus on one page in particular from Greg Grandin’s The Blood of Guatemala. In his discussion of how education curricula and scheduling served to widen the class divide between rural K’iche subsistence farmers and urban principales, Grandin argues that the school year was planned around the needs of the coffee-based export economy. He shows how this fed the class divide by structuring time around the demands of the agro-production cycle. (172)

This scenario, however, makes me think about an ongoing quandary that I’ve yet to put to rest. As part of the effort to complicate nature-culture binaries, environmental historians have highlighted the agency of non-human actors, and broken down such monoliths as wilderness and nature to show how they are socially constituted. Likewise, non-human actors have been shown to complicate matters of scale, forcing us to problematize political boundaries like the city, state or nation by asking how dynamic environments influence or condition socio-political life. Yet the closest we have come to an equivalent watershed regarding temporal scale involves embedding human events within longue durée treatments of geological and climatological transformations. In these cases, however, there still exists a stark separation between what we may call “natural” (i.e. geological and climatological) and “cultural” time; temporally speaking, though juxtaposed, history is still anthropocentrically isolated from the natural history that surrounds it.

This may be because the environmental longue durée (remember, it didn’t mean geology and climate for Braudel, 1960) requires such a wide-angle view that the historical event is smoothed over; seen from a distance its “lumpiness” (Sewell 1996, 843) disintegrates.

However, disturbance theories and patchwork models have shown that non-human time doesn’t need to be equated with a leap to the geological longue durée (Zimmerer 1994). So I wonder if, rather than reverting to geological time when looking for a non-human temporality, we can instead talk about “plant time,” the meristematic temporality that bestows some order on plant events—photosynthetic moments, budding germination, reproduction.

Author: 
Cañizares- Esguerra, Jorge

Cañizares- Esguerra, Jorge. “How Derivative Was Humboldt? Microcosmic Nature Narratives in Early Modern Spanish America and the (Other) Origins of Humboldt’s Ecological Sensibilities,.” In Colonial Botany: Science, Commerce, and Politics in the Early Modern World. Ed. Londa Schiebinger and Claudia Swan. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005, pp. 148-65.

This chapter deals with the origins of Humboldt’s theories of biodistribution and the influence that Spanish American naturalists had on him. It begins by dealing with Pablo Vila’s idea of the Euro-Creole origins of biodistribution and in particular, the role of Colombian naturalists Francisco José de Caldas’ botanical research in the Andes in shaping Humboldt’s view of South American ecology.

Cañizares explains how naturalists from José de Acosta to Linnaeus had resorted to an Edenic narrative of Andean nature in part due to the ecological variation offered by the ranges’ extreme altitudes. Looking especially at the Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo (1645-50) of León Pinelo, Cañizares underlines two key parts of the paradisiacal narrative. First, as “many imagined imagined paradise as a tall equatorial peak with a multitude of climates (152), Pinelo resorted to the bible as proof that the eastern slope of the Andes was in fact the location of Eden. He used Gen. 2:6-15 and 3:24 to prove it, suggesting the four rivers were not the Gihon, Tigris, Euphrates and Pishon, but the Magdalena the Orinoco, the Amazon and the Plate (he also argued the angel w/ flaming sword was a metaphor for Andean volcanoes). Second, as Pinelo’s version of the sacred was based not in the regular but in the wonderful, his Paraíso en el Nuevo Mundo was filled with a catalog of Peru’s exotic flora—like passion fruit Passiflora edulis—and fauna. (As a side, in Pinelo we get a tripartite geography that is slightly different: lowlands—coast and selva—llanos, and highlands.)